King Lear
Play Summary and Full Text: Full Text with Clips: Act II Scene 2d

With a tone of supplication that suggests his reduced station, Lear flatters Regan and compares her favorably to her “sharp-toothed” sister. But Regan, forewarned, objects that Goneril would not fail her obligations without cause. She suggests that Lear is old and should recognize his infirmities. Lear admits it, but sinks into parody: “On my knees I beg that you’ll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food.” But Regan suggests he return to Goneril instead. Now Lear erupts: “you fen-sucked fogs.” He refuses to return to Goneril because she reduced his train, or more generally, to “scant my sizes.” Before this interlude can continue, Goneril herself arrives. The stage is getting crowded—Lear, his Fool, his knight, Kent, Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, Gloucester, Oswald, and perhaps Albany and Edmund, who remain silent. However, the next few minutes belong to Lear and his daughters. Appealing to the idea that their servants can service Lear as well as his knights, Goneril and Regan gradually reduce his train to twenty-five, then ten, then five, or perhaps none. Lear lurches between abusive rage—“though art a boil, a plague sore”—and pitiful pleas—“I gave you all”—to end in virtual self-abnegation—“You see me here, you gods, a poor old man, as full of grief as age, wretched in both.” He can still shake his fist—“you unnatural hags”—but ends the scene broken—“this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws or e’er I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad.”

Act II Scene 2c . . . Act II Scene 2e

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ACT II. SCENE II. SEGMENT D. At Gloucester House.

Enter Cornwall, Regan, Gloucester, Servants.

KING LEAR    Good morrow to you both.    [330]

CORNWALL   Hail to your grace!

Kent here set at liberty

REGAN    I am glad to see your highness.

Regan, I think you are. I know what reason
I have to think so. If thou shouldst not be glad,
I would divorce me from thy mother’s tomb,   [335]
Sepulchring an adultress.
[to Kent] O, are you free?
Some other time for that. Beloved Regan,
Thy sister’s naught. O Regan, she hath tied
Sharp-toothed unkindness like a vulture here—
I can scarce speak to thee. Thou’lt not believe    [340]
With how depraved a quality. O Regan.

I pray you, sir, take patience. I have hope.
You less know how to value her desert
Than she to scant her duty.

KING LEAR   Say? how is that?     [345]

I cannot think my sister in the least
Would fail her obligation. If, sir, perchance
She have restrained the riots of your followers,
‘Tis on such ground, and to such wholesome end
As clears her from all blame.    [350]

KING LEAR   My curses on her.

REGAN                                    O, sir, you are old.
Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of her confine. You should be ruled and led
By some discretion that discerns your state    [355]
Better than you yourself. Therefore I pray you
That to our sister you do make return.
Say you have wronged her.

KING LEAR                       Ask her forgiveness?
Do you but mark how this becomes the house? [Kneels] [360]
“Dear daughter, I confess that I am old.
Age is unnecessary. On my knees I beg
That you’ll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food.”

Good sir, no more. These are unsightly tricks.
Return you to my sister.    [365]

KING LEAR         [Rises] Never, Regan.
She hath abated me of half my train,
Looked black upon me, struck me with her tongue
Most serpent-like upon the very heart.
All the stored vengeances of heaven fall    [370]
On her ingrateful top! Strike her young bones,
You taking airs, with lameness!

CORNWALL   Fie, sir, fie.

You nimble lightnings, dart your blinding flames
Into her scornful eyes. Infect her beauty,    [375]
You fen-sucked fogs, drawn by the powerful sun
To fall and blister!

REGAN                  O the blest gods!
So will you wish on me when the rash mood is on.

No, Regan, thou shalt never have my curse.    [380]
Thy tender-hefted nature shall not give
Thee o’er to harshness. Her eyes are fierce, but thine
Do comfort and not burn. ‘Tis not in thee
To grudge my pleasures, to cut off my train,
To bandy hasty words, to scant my sizes,     [385]
And in conclusion to oppose the bolt
Against my coming in. Thou better knowst
The offices of nature, bond of childhood,
Effects of courtesy, dues of gratitude.

Thy half o’th’kingdom hast thou not forgot,    [390]
Wherein I thee endowed.

REGAN   Good sir, to the purpose. Tucket within

KING LEAR   Who put my man i’th’stocks?

Enter Steward

CORNWALL                                      What trumpet’s that?

I know’t, my sister’s. This approves her letter,    [395]
That she would soon be here. [to Oswald] Is your lady come?

This is a slave whose easy borrowed pride
Dwells in the sickly grace of her he follows.
Out, varlet, from my sight!

CORNWALL   What means your grace?    [400]

Enter Goneril

Who stocked my servant? Regan, I have good hope
Thou didst not know on’t. Who comes here? O heavens,
If you do love old men, if your sweet sway
Allow obedience,
if you yourselves are old,
Make it your cause. Send down, and take my part.    [405]
[To Goneril] Art not ashamed to look upon this beard?
O Regan, wilt thou take her by the hand?

Why not by the hand, sir? How have I offended?
All’s not offence that indiscretion finds
And dotage terms so.    [410]

KING LEAR                 O sides, you are too tough.
Will you yet hold? How came my man i’th’stocks?

I set him there, sir, but his own disorders
Deserved much less advancement.

KING LEAR                                     You? Did you?    [415]

I pray you, father, being weak, seem so.
If till the expiration of your month
You will return and sojourn with my sister,
Dismissing half your train, come then to me.
I am now from home, and out of that provision    [420]
Which shall be needful for your entertainment.

Return to her? And fifty men dismissed?
No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose
To wage against the enmity o’th’air—
To be a comrade with the wolf and owl—    [425]
Necessity’s sharp pinch! Return with her?
Why, the hot-blooded France that dowerless took
Our youngest born—I could as well be brought
To knee his throne and squire-like pension beg
To keep base life afoot. Return with her?    [430]
Persuade me rather to be slave and sumpter
To this detested groom. [points to Oswald]

GONERIL   At your choice, sir.

I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad.
I will not trouble thee, my child. Farewell.    [435]
We’ll no more meet, no more see one another.
But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter,
Or rather a disease that’s in my flesh,
Which I must needs call mine. Thou art a boil,
A plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle,    [440]
In my corrupted blood. But I’ll not chide thee.
Let shame come when it will. I do not call it.
I do not bid the thunder-bearer shoot,
Nor tell tales of thee to high-judging Jove.

Mend when thou canst. Be better at thy leisure.    [445]
I can be patient. I can stay with Regan,
I and my hundred knights.

REGAN                               Not altogether so.
I looked not for you yet, nor am provided
For your fit welcome. Give ear, sir, to my sister,    [450]
For those that mingle reason with your passion
Must be content to think you old, and so—
But she knows what she does.

KING LEAR    Is this well spoken?

I dare avouch it, sir. What, fifty followers?    [455]
Is it not well? What should you need of more?
Yea, or so many, sith that both charge and danger
Speak ‘gainst so great a number? How in one house
Should many people, under two commands
Hold amity? ‘Tis hard, almost impossible.    [460]

Why might not you, my lord, receive attendance
From those that she calls servants, or from mine?

Why not, my lord? If then they chanced to slack ye,
We could control them. If you will come to me—
For now I spy a danger—I entreat you    [465]
To bring but five and twenty. To no more
Will I give place or notice.

KING LEAR     I gave you all—

REGAN   And in good time you gave it.

Made you my guardians, my depositaries,    [470]
But kept a reservation to be followed
With such a number. What, must I come to you
With five and twenty? Regan, said you so?

REGAN   And speak’t again, my lord. No more with me.

Those wicked creatures yet do look well favored    [475]
When others are more wicked.
Not being the worst
Stands in some rank of praise. [to Goneril] I’ll go with thee.
Thy fifty yet doth double five and twenty,
And thou art twice her love.

GONERIL                             Hear me, my lord.    [480]
What need you five and twenty, ten, or five,
To follow in a house where twice so many
Have a command to tend you?

REGAN     What need one?

O, reason not the need. Our basest beggars    [485]
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs.
Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s. Thou art a lady.
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,    [490]
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But for true need—
You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need.
You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
As full of grief as age, wretched in both.
If it be you that stir these daughters’ hearts    [495]
Against their father, fool me not so much
To bear it tamely. Touch me with noble anger,
And let not women’s weapons, waterdrops,
Stain my man’s cheeks. No, you unnatural hags,
I will have such revenges on you both    [500]
That all the world shall—I will do such things—
What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be
The terrors of the earth. You think I’ll weep;
No, I’ll not weep.     Storm and Tempest
I have full cause of weeping; but this heart    [505]
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws,
Or ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!

Exeunt [King Lear, Gloucester, Kent, and Fool]

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